Election period or not, we have had the opportunities on several occasions to meet and sit down with former soldier-turned-rebel-turned senator Gregorio Ballesteros Honasan II, mostly commonly known as Gringo Honasan, and every time we see him it’s always the same man we’ve met like the first time we met him some couple of years ago.
The gallant Honasan, who would be turning 68 this March 14, was an ordinary soldier for 17 years prior to his 7 years stint as a rebel, and 18 years as senator. He’s keen and planning to retire on 2019, “But I think God wants to punish me some more and put me into this interesting situation,” the senator kiddingly explained of what might be the reason why he’s running for the second highest position in the country as vice president. He’s also knew that he needs to catch up on people’s awareness that he is running as vice president as he’s proclamation as UNA’s candidate came a little bit late. “There’s no problem with name -recall, but I’m trying to catch up on visibility and audibility.”
We divided this article into two separate stories because of the length of our conversation with the respectable senator.
Issues that needed to be tackle and are on his platforms
“Short term problem, too much partisan politics. Priorities are rearrange arbitrarily because the main consideration is not anymore public interest but what serves the personalities and group engaged in this kind of situation.Strategically, it is still poverty alleviation. So much to do for the next administration.
When you talk about a policy where we have a vacuum, we don’t have a clear economic policy, foreign policy, security policy, and everything emanates from there.
The problem really is, we don’t have no clear definition of what constitutes our national interests.
We have failed to realize that our most precious, strategic, and renewable are our children. Our next generation of leaders and citizens. The job of our generation is to help make the next generation of leaders and citizens smarter, healthier, stronger, happier, and safer – much needed formula for national development, long term development.
He (Binay) keeps on telling all audiences that I’m going to be his anti-crime czar. I will have to clear this up with him because I want to know exactly what it means. Because to me, if you’re talking about anti-crime, I’d rather deal with it in a generic sense. Like peace and order, it’s not something that you relegate to policemen and soldiers only. Security, safety, protection, it has to be in compassing.
My dream, our (UNA) vision is bring our OFWs back home by generating job opportunities here that will not require for them to leave our shores anymore. There are 14 million scattered in 200 countries all over the world,” according to Gringo.
Will he be joining the Vice Presidential Debate?
“Depending on what the format is, because my sad experience in Cagayan de Oro during the Presidential Debate was the first question asked of the vice president (Binay), because he’s the first on line, is he was asked to explain his properties. So I think that those were grounds for walking out. I think it’s about platforms. You have to articulate your platforms not to explain your SALN. I’m surprised it’s even sponsored by the COMELEC. It shows you the degree of our political immaturity and even of our mechanism for regulating of what should be a clean, credible, fair, and honest election as you compete, as candidates, as leaders in the free market of vision, ideas, and leadership. If they did that to me, I would walk out,” Honasan explained.
Gringo believes that he and Binay both have the same class origins coming from poverty and that they can make a difference for the country. Honasan is a grandson of a fisherman and a son of a soldier.
“We have a track record. You don’t make the changes happen during the 90-day campaign period. We should demand that from our candidates. We make changes happen between elections.” Honasan stressed out his physical, psychological, and emotional scars from years of doing battles for (the improvement of) our way of life.
“You cannot just operate on family name; you’re married to this and that; your face is plastered all over billboards and sides of buses. That’s not the standard for running for the highest position or second highest position in the land. I put everything on record without passing judgement on the capabilities and qualities, or lack of it, of the other candidates. I’ll put my 42 years of public service on the line and tell the people that what makes me different – the strength, courage of my convictions, and the audacity to make things happen. I will help solve crimes or die trying.
Anybody who stands on that platform and presents himself or herself, as a future president or vice president, better be sure that he’s standing on a solid platform. And that will be reflected in his family, in his work, in his track record. In what he did between elections and not during the campaign period and make promises.
I’ve stood in the gates of Malacanang three times in my life, in full combat gear. Without invitation. Except the one from my conscience. I didn’t know what to do then. Now with the prospect of clean, credible, and honest election, a pluralistic, democratic exercise, I know exactly what to do (solve crime). It involves only one thing. Good parenthood.”
What makes a person a hero?
Deriving from historical figures like Aguinaldo, Luna, Rizal, Bonifacio, and etc., Honasan believes that by dreaming of a Filipino nation, their sense of nationhood took precedence over their loyalty to their families. “They realized earlier on that when you have a strong nation, our families will benefit,” he added.
“Develop a stronger sense of education by teaching our next generations of leaders and citizens factual history devoid of organized hypocrisy, credit-grabbing “Sino’ng sikat?”, who was there and who was not there, and personality attacks. Help build the future by example.
If you want another People Power EDSA Revolution, do it on social media but do it with great responsibility,” Honasan shared his opinion on heroism while quoting a line from Spiderman’s ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ tagline.
“Do not entertain other notions about how you can apply this new tool at your disposal to educate each other and our population. The job of leaders is not to give the people what they want. That’s transactional and market-driven. A job of leader is to teach the people that they should stop dreaming and start working and pray hard to build this nation.
“I am no EDSA hero. I was just an ordinary soldier thrust into an extraordinary circumstances. And I responded. That’s what courage is. You’re afraid but whenever we were at crossroads deciding, face with moral dilemma, we did not say, ‘Eto bang ipaglalaban natin, sigurado ba tayong panalo dyan?’. We did not fight the battles that we’re sure to win. We fought the battles that needed fighting, uncertain of victory. That’s what it’s all about.”
On his relationship with his children, his wife, and with Sen. Enrile
Like the dynamic duo, considering Honasan as Robin to Enrile, the Batman, doesn’t bother the former soldier. Being perceived as bodyguard, Honasan also looked up to Enrile like a father. “The reason we started this long, we never interfere with each other’s core values. He never tells me what to do, I never tell him what to do. In fact, if you check the records of the Senate, we have voted differently on certain issues. But that is not was perceived by the public. Akala nila you’ll get one and take two. That’s one of the reasons because of that kind of mutual respect and I want to put that in perspective.”
The day that Gringo lost his anonymity was when during the 3rd day of the People power in EDSA was when then Defense Minister Enrile thrust the young Honasan’s face in front of the crowd as Enrile introduced the young rebel and thousand flashbulbs popped from cameras covering the revolution. His children were exposed earlier on from that moment.
“My children are not used to attention and they seem to be not affected. They retreat to their music and leave me alone in my agony to face the tormentors,” Honasan made a humor out of the fact that he’s insulted in history books and bashed left-and-right by ‘paid’ media.
“My kids are strong but not in traditional sense. they’re strong inside. My wife is the strongest of them all,” he continued to humor us.
Revisiting EDSA after 30 years
“If somebody will say na lahat ng ginawa natin 30 years ago ay mali, I will not agree. In fact I will raise my voice in protest in whatever capacity. We risked our lives, your parents, your grandparents, their future, their families, their honor, their personal safety, then somebody will say mali lahat yan? Hindi naman tama yun.”
His message with regards to the celebration of 3oth EDSA People Power Anniversary is for Filipino people to join hands, get together under moral leadership. “Meaningful change is possible. And we should derive from those lessons,” he said.
On becoming a rebel and fugitive who seeks justice for the Ormoc and Mendiola Massacre victims
“They say that our coup attempts in ’86 destroyed the economy. We asked UP Economists including Prof. Winnie Monsod, who was the NEDA Chief during that time while we were going underground, if we destroyed the economy. They told us that we’re not that good. It’s already on its way down. Pinabilis lang ninyo,” he shared the story while smiling in front of us.
“Many lives were lost during our coup attempts but I’ve paid my dues already. Nakulong na ako, nagtago ako, absentee father, absentee husband.
Ngayon ang tanong is, sino ang wonderful secretary of environment and natural resources (DENR) ang pumayag na kalbuhin yung bundok sa Ormoc which resulted in 8,000 people dying in two hours. Okay lang sa akin na i-firing squad ako kung i-restore ang death penalty pero gusto ko katabi ko yung mga taong yun para sabay-sabay kaming kakanta ng ‘Happy Birthday’.
One time, our farmers, all they wanted was to see their president. Ano’ng ginawa natin sa kanila in Mendiola? Pinagbabaril natin. Ang tawag dun, Mendiola Massacre. Gusto ko katabi ko rin yung nag-utos dun. Okay lang sa akin. pero kung ako lang, no way! I’m not going to be an escape goat for the selective application of justice,” he recalled these unfortunate events.
On becoming a rebel and fugitive who enters the world of politics
“Yun nga. Kaya ako lumabas dahil hindi sinusunod yung batas. Pumasok ako ngayon hoping na susundin, eh hindi na naman sususndin… Ayokong sabihin na lalabas ulit ako.”
On the upcoming May 2016 Election
“I hope walang dayaan dahil we will create more problems than solutions. It will divide our country some more. I keep on looking for the other candidates so we can talk seriously while things are uncertain. Para mag-usap kami what to do after election. Sino man ang maluklok. Ayaw nila, eh. Baka natatakot?” Honasan said to us as he looks forward to a clean and honest election. He is also eager on casual talks with other vice president candidates but to no avail.
“This country with all its problems is still so blessed. The interesting part, all we need to do is to wake up every morning and continue breathing,” Honasan thought of a still great future of teh country while comparing the state of our nation to the refugee problems in Syria. “Is another EDSA possible? The answer to election fraud is not a protest. The answer to a malicious prosecution is not a motion for reconsideration. The answer, which we found 30 years ago, is here,” explained Honasan as he places both hands in his chest pointing to his heart.
“How much of this can we take? That’s the burden I ask you to help us carry. Propagate your idealism, your sense of duty, your love of country to those who are willing to listen. Social media has become a very powerful tool and it has also become a very irresponsible tool. When you’re behind that screen, you can say and do anything, and hide.
Hope springs eternal. I think we’ll weather this. We’ll survive this. Eleksyon lang ito, di ba? But at to what cost? At the cost of more institutional damage? Pati ba naman ang eleksyon ay mada-damage beyond repair? Yung judiciary, yung mga kandidato, yung siraan, yung personalan, di ba? Yun ba ang price ng clean and honest elections? Where is now our sense of nationhood? I cannot imagine myself allowing any of my children to go and look for another country. Aapihin lang sila roon. Dito na lang tayong lahat. But let’s fix naman our own backyard,” continued Honasan as shared his pulse on the coming election.
How to fix this nation?
“Wag tayong umasa sa iba. Everybody is busy surviving, including the traditional rich countries. US has problems. Europe with serious problems. China has problems. Let’s develop this beautiful country of ours and get together as a people. Beyond politics ito, eh. Politcs, politics lang yan. And then let’s get together behind whomever we selected. And then develop a real political party system. Issue-oriented and platform driven instead of ‘Sino’ng running mate, sino’ng madi-disqualified?, foundling ba yan, o sira-ulo ba yan dahil gustong patayin lahat? Asan ang platform mo?’ Yun ang pinag-uusapan dito,” Honasan continued with his eloquent mood before turning to a more serious note.
“This is not going to be a quick fix. We are not going to do this overnight. One of this days you’ll find yourself being drawn into public service and you’ll have to learn from the good and bad lessons that we’ve experienced.”
“Nobody is safe anymore. That’s my take. But to me, crime is not the problem. The idea of crime is the problem. Sino ba ang gustong maging kriminal, di ba? Given a choice, bigyan ka ng trabaho, assuming hindi ka tamad, sino’ng gustong maging rebelde, maging terrorist? Crime is an idea,” shared the man who spent 7 years of his life as rebel soldier who led a number of coups because of what he believes what was the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, because of the depress situation, poverty, crime has become a very lucrative idea,” he told us.
With regards to crime solving expediting within 6 months, Honasan frankly admits that he has serious doubts with anybody who can promise it. “Unless you are given super emergency powers and your national security adviser is Iron Man, Superman, or superheroes… But that’s a good campaign and then that’s a promise. You have to look at the track record. Of course, Mayor Duterte, who’s my bro (RAM and Guardians), I don’t comment on his demeanor, on his motives, on his promises, that’s mutual respect.”
“Hindi kailangang maging sikat.”
“She may not be articulate and may not speak the king’s English, but she has a track record. Pinahirapan ni Karen Davila si Alma Moreno, pero we forget she’s three-time president of the Philippine Councilors League. That’s 70,000 people. Hindi naman ito mga bobo. She has something.”
Princess Jacel Kiram
“She’s advocating, pushing for the recovery of Sabah, which generates $70B in revenues from oil, supposodely, sa atin yun. Pag nakakuha tayo ng ganung revenue, annually, gagaan na ang buhay natin, di ba?”
“He’s multi-awarded. Who are we to pass judgement from the qualifications of the candidates?”
“Interestingly, they are not that popular, but I go for this team any day, when you compare their records, what they went through to the others. All of us, are grossly over-rated for the good and bad things we do, like heroism. We should change our paradigm for measuring our heroes and our leaders.”
(to be continued)
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